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Customer Service–It matters

July 11th, 2012

This is purely anecdotal, but I think it makes a good point. But first I need to preface it with some background information.

Last year, I lost my job in the middle of August, but maintained Health Insurance through the end of the month, because I’d already paid the premium through the end of the month. The day before the end of the month, I got a robo-call from Apria Healthcare soliciting me to procure replacement supplies for my sleep apnea durable medical equipment. Knowing that I was covered at that time, and with full knowledge that in two days I’d face an unknown amount of time that I wouldn’t be covered.  Additionally I knew that my lapsing insurance policy provided full coverage for the supplies, I made an order, and received the replacement supplies, and have used my durable medical equipment every day since then.

At Christmas I received an Jawbone Up activity monitoring bracelet as a gift, really nifty device that helps generally track how much I move, how well I sleep, and how what I eat effect how I feel. I enjoyed using the band very much, until after about three weeks the band wouldn’t hold a charge, and died.  Jawbone, to it’s credit admitted that their bands were faulty, and have published a no-questions-asked guarantee, where I was able to file for a refund (even though I got this as a gift) and receive the purchase price of the band in cash.  But Jawbone went beyond that and also said they’d support purchased bands for the entire warranty period, even if you claimed the refund.  So I also have received 5 bands (the 6th is on the way) as I’ve used the band continuously until they fail and then ask for a new replacement.

This week I received, out of the blue, an invoice from Apria for the supplies I’d ordered while under coverage from my insurance company. It appears that, after talking to the first level support person on the phone (who was very helpful) that while I did call and order the supplies before the end of the month, the supplies didn’t ship till after the end of the month, and the insurance rules state that the charge is made on shipment, not order. Had I known this at the time, I wouldn’t have ordered the supplies.  Instead, the very helpful first level support person passed me on to billing. The billing department person wasn’t very helpful, immediately, upon hearing my story, said he could do nothing about it and gave me the number for the local branch that filled my order.  The next day I called the local branch manager, and related that story to him, he said two very telling things:

  1. That he didn’t appreciate the corporate bean counters (e.g. Billing) passing on the decision and therefore cost of this issue down to him.
  2. That he couldn’t do anything to aid me in the dilemma without either: a) receiving the unused supplies, or b) committing insurance fraud by re-stating the order.

He didn’t offer to just cancel the order and eat the cost, but did allow me to pay the minimum for as long as I needed, but that I was still responsible for the full amount.

This morning, I hit that time where my Jawbone UP band has died it’s normal death, and hit the technical support chat line while I was doing my daily work.  The representative, Alyssa, was helpful and went above and beyond what was required.  She even appreciated my jokes, while weaving them into common support dialog. For example:

Alyssa: Hi, my name is Alyssa. How may I help you?
 Jon : My Up band, 5th one, stopped responding, and won’t hold a charge.
 Alyssa: Hello Jon, I’m sorry to hear that your UP is not holding a charge.
 Alyssa: I’ll be happy to help you in any way that I can.
 Jon : the last few days the battery level dropped more quickly and didn’t hold a charge, woke up this morning to a dead band, and no charge after removing from the charging adapter.  I think it’s time for another replacement band.
 Alyssa: Oh no, I certainly know how disappointing that can be. I had that happen to my original UP band.
 Jon : I’m going to make a necklace with all my replacement bands, if only they were gold. ;)
 Alyssa: I think that will be very flattering on you, Jon. If you get tired of the necklace, you can always just take them to electronic recycling.
 Alyssa: That is mainly because we are currently not requiring our customers to send the UP bands back to us.
 Jon : ah, that’s a good point, when I tire from having the trophy case, off to electronic recycling they will go.
 Alyssa: I think that is a great way of looking at the situation.

After the frustration of yesterday, this was a welcome joy.

So let me sum up:

Apria Healthcare: Reliable products, crappy customer service. If I have an option of who I’ll order my durable medical supplies I’ll ensure that it WON’T be Apria Healthcare.

Jawbone: Unreliable product, responsive and engaging customer service. Might not invest in a new version of the Up band, since the market for these is competitive (FitBit, Nike, etc) but I haven’t completely ruled that out.

Cost to Apria: They’ll be sending me paper invoices for the next 6 years, in paper costs alone (figuring $.25 for paper, envelope) $13.75 (not including the FTE for people to process my order and bookkeep) to collect the ~$270 I owe them for the supplies.

Cost to Jawbone: 6 bands at $99 per band retail price = $594

Future business to Apria Healthcare: $0 (if it were my decision)

Future business to Jawbone: unknown, it depends on the market and my needs.